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Post-Mortem: UFC 249


Sign up for ESPN+ right here, and you can then stream UFC 249 live on your smart TV, computer, phone, tablet or streaming device via the ESPN app.

After remaining on standby for over two months due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday became the first major American sports organization to reopen its doors. Headlined by two title fights, UFC 249 was staged inside the empty VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida. Tony Ferguson put his 12-fight winning streak on the line against the blazing-hot Justin Gaethje in the headliner, while bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo locked horns with Dominick Cruz in the co-feature.

Gaethje withstood the constant pressure from “The Ultimate Fighter” 13 winner, as he plastered Ferguson with crippling leg kicks and crushing hooks. Concussive shots rocked the Californian on numerous occasions until referee Herb Dean called for a merciful stoppage 3:39 into the fifth round and crowned Gaethje the new interim UFC lightweight champion.

“I was just ready to die,” Gaethje said on the ESPN post-fight show. “I go in with that mindset. There is not a second I can retain because it is just pure reaction.”

Gaethje, a former World Series of Fighting champion, entered the UFC with a 16-0 record in 2017. He introduced himself to the masses in a spectacular Octagon debut, as he knocked out Michael Johnson in a “Fight of the Year” contender. Losses to Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier forced the Safford, Arizona, native to trade in his live-by-the-sword-die-by-the-sword style in favor of a more calculated approach. Gaethje has since knocked out four consecutive opponents.

“With age comes wisdom, and I am fighting wiser because I have the best coach [in] Trevor Wittman,” Gaethje said. “My feet are putting me in such good positions to land these shots. Tony couldn’t push me to the pace that he wanted to push me because he couldn’t find me because of my feet. I’m crazy athletic. I am the hardest worker. I have been doing this my whole life. We call it honing your skills. I am really starting to trust the skills that Trevor has been honing for eight years, nine years, now.”

After securing the most significant victory of his career, Gaethje expects to face undisputed champion Khabib Nurmagomedov in a lightweight unification bout in the second half of 2020.

“He’s the best in the world,” Gaethje said. “I’m going to need a couple months, I guess, to get back. My legs are sore. I would say August or September sounds like fun.”

The undefeated Nurmagomedov was an attentive observer and took to Twitter to congratulate Gaethje: “@Justin_Gaethje it was so impressive, congratulations. Very smart fight.” He later deleted the tweet and replaced it with a “no comment.”

In co-main event, Cejudo ruined Cruz’s long-awaited return from a three-year hiatus by dispatching of “The Dominator” in the second round. Afterward, the 2008 Olympic gold medalist announced his retirement from MMA.

“I’m happy with my career,” Cejudo said. “I have done enough in the sport. I want to walk away. I want to enjoy myself. I’m 33 years old. I have a girl now who is watching back home. I want to start a family. Since I was 11 years old, I have sacrificed my whole life to get to where I am at today. I am not going to let anybody take that from me.”

On a six-fight winning streak, Cejudo has defeated Cruz, Marlon Moraes, Demetrious Johnson and T.J. Dillashaw in his last four appearances. The Californian leaves the sport at the peak of his power.

“I think ever since I had my surgery on my shoulder [I have been considering retirement],” Cejudo said. “I felt like I enjoyed my time, my freedom, a little bit too much. Really what it was—it gave me time to reflect. Ever since I was 11, I have been going hard. I have over 600 wrestling matches and now MMA. I am 33 years old. I have always put myself in front. I am just ready to start that new chapter in my life. I want to leave on top. I want to leave on my terms. I am happy. I am satisfied with my career. I saved the [flyweight] division. I won the flyweight title and the bantamweight title. I defended both. There is nothing more to prove.” Advertisement
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